Caps Knockoff Sabres, 3-2
Another game and we have another highlight reel goal by Alexander Ovechkin that propels the Washington Capitals to a victory. Tonight the victims were the Buffalo Sabres and goalie Patrick Lalime who will be watching, along with several other sports fans, the Great #8’s game winner on hockey highlights around the country and in Canada over the next several days. With the Caps clinging to a 2-1 lead with just over twelve and a half minutes left in the game Ovechkin took defensemen Bryan Helmer’s pass within the Caps defensive zone, turned on the jets and raced inside of Sabres defensemen Tony Lydman down the ice, then used a great inside and out move to undress the other Buffalo defensemen, Henrik Tallinder, to break in alone on Lalime and then slide the puck under the Sabres netminder into the goal for a 3-1 Caps lead. The goal was Ovechkin’s 23rd of the season. Any time the Great #8 plays it seems to be “Can’t Miss Hockey” these days. (To see the goal go to http://blog.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider/)
A late Maxim Afinogenov goal by Buffalo at 18:11 brought the Sabres within one but Jose Theodore and the Caps slammed the door shut to hold on for a 3-2 win. Theodore played an excellent game tonight stopping 22 of 24 shots and he made several big saves when called upon, including three shots in succession early in the game when it was scoreless as well as big stops on Jason Pominville and Ales Kotalik in the third period when Buffalo would not go away. The only two goals #60 gave up on Friday he had no chance on as Afinogenov made an incredible deflection of a shot that was heading wide and the other Sabres tally by Tomas Vanek came on the power play that was set up by an outstanding pass by Drew Stafford. Overall I gave Theodore an “A” grade for tonight’s game, especially since any rebounds he allowed were steered by him out of harm’s way.
This game was scoreless for a long time and the Caps first goal came with just over two minutes left in the second period on a Viktor Kozlov blast from the right wing boards on a three on two Caps odd man rush that was created by a good breakout pass by Helmer to center Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom, as I’ve said many times before is so smart with the puck, and he recognized that both Sabres defensemen were leaning towards the left wing where Ovechkin was flying up the boards so the crafty #19 gave the puck to Kozlov who had the better lane and angle on Patrick Lalime. The rocket slap shot into the net by Kozloz was his ninth of the year and he now has four goals and an assist in his last four games.
The Caps then had what they thought was a two goal lead just over a minute later on a power play as Ovechkin’s blast off of the face-off went into the short side of the net but forward Brooks Laich was called for goaltender interference, and rightfully so, and the tally was wiped out. However, a Boyd Gordon face-off win would finally result in a two goal Caps lead as Milan Jurcina’s point blast was deflected into the net by Gordon just under two minutes into the third period. Vanek would cut the Caps lead to 2-1 while Ovechkin was in the penalty box as a result of a questionable slashing call.
This win pushes the Caps to 22-11-3 overall, good for 47 points, and they maintained their eight point lead in the Southeast Division over the second place Carolina Hurricanes who rallied from a goal down to beat the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-4, behind Eric Staal’s hat trick. Next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday at 7pm at the Verizon Center. Before the game former Capital Mike Gartner will have his #11 retired and the Caps will wear their white jerseys at home as they did back when Gartner played at the old Capital Centre in Landover.
Notes: Helmer had two assists and was the game’s number one star which was awarded by a member of the Caps media. His defensive zone play was outstanding and his solid effort led to 18:58 of ice time. The Caps out shot the Sabres 34-24. Captain Chris Clark returned to the lineup and had four hits in 11:53 of ice time. Sergei Fedorov was placed on long term injured reserve retroactive to December 14th and will be eligible to return on January 9th. Washington will only save salary cap room on a daily basis starting today until #91 returns. If noone else gets hurt before then and Fedorov does return in early January then Caps GM George McPhee will have some tough decisions to make because the team would likely be over the salary cap unless they either trade someone or send rookie defensemen Karl Alzner back to Hershey. Based on performance, the option of sending Alzner back does not appear to be one that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau or McPhee likely wants to make because #27 has been very good on defense and clearly belongs in the NHL. In addition to Fedorov, defensemen Mike Green, Tom Poti, John Erskine, and Jeff Schultz missed the game as well as forwards Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann (flu). Goalie Brent Johnson was rested due to hip issues and as a result Simeon Varlamov backed up Theodore. The Caps are now an Eastern Conference leading 14-1-1 at the Verizon Center.